Ghumakkar Featured Author Interview with Doctor Taher

Hello fellow Ghumakkars,

It has been more than a year since I last wrote here. I tried to keep up with Ghumakkar, but this community is so dynamic that I fell back pretty soon. In the meanwhile, my life went through its own twists and turns. 2013 was a huge year for me personally, with big things happening, including marriage. 2013, as I can see, was a huge year for Ghumakkar as well. This continuously evolving community has become immensely more focussed and mature, overseen by the original Ghumakkar, Nandan, and, as he so aptly put it, his “partner-in-crime” Archana. While Archana is away on her well-deserved sabbatical, I will try my best to take on some of her responsibilities, and interviewing the featured author is one of them.

When Nandan informed me that this month’s Featured Author is none other than Dr Taher Kagalwala, I was delighted, because not only is Dr Taher a gifted writer, but is also an extremely inspiring human being, both as a person as well as a professional. I have had the privilege of knowing him for several years now. I “met” him on a writing website, where he was leading “Team India” in a competition. The team did pretty well in the competition, and he came across as an able, thoughtful, and fair leader, settling arguments and misunderstandings, and at times taking hard calls wherever required. I took a break from the writing website, but we stayed in touch through emails and messages.

Dr Taher and Nishrin in Catamaran

Dr Taher and Nishrin in Catamaran – Nishrin is a Sikh Punjabi

Writing comes naturally to him. In his case, you can say that “once a writer, always a writer.” Wherever he goes, whatever he does, I am pretty sure, he will always be writing something. Be a book related to his profession, or a work of fiction, a travelogue, or a non-fiction article, Dr Taher has been there and done that. He has a knack of discussing the most controversial of all topics, and still retaining a sane voice and an unperturbed demeanor. He is an extremely good listener, and you will find him genuinely interested in knowing you as a person.

Dr Taher is currently stationed in Saudi Arabia. However, the first phase of our interaction regarding this interview happened while Dr. Taher was holidaying with his family in Singapore. He generously took out time to interact with us, often working long hours after what I imagine must have been very hectic days. For this, I would like to thank Dr Taher. And now without any further delay, let me present to you Dr Taher Kagalwala, the Featured Author for the month of January 2014.

Ghumakkar: Congratulations Dr Taher! You are the first Featured Author for 2014. How do you feel?
Dr Taher: Thank you! Needless to say, I am thrilled about this. I was looking forward to this interview.

Ghumakkar: Great! We were looking forward to speaking to you as well. Where are you stationed these days? Saudi Arabia?
Dr Taher: Well, I am on an extended vacation from work, and am currently with my family in Mumbai. I will return to Saudi Arabia on the 17th of this month.

Ghumakkar: Wow! Looks like we caught you at the right time! Anyways, going back a few years, how did you come across Ghumakkar and what made you write your first story?
Dr Taher: I was introduced to Ghumakkar by you only Vibha. Let me remind you. I had known you since a few years on a writing web-site. When you informed me about this completely Indian travel site I was totally … like wow! Let me check out this. From that day on I knew I would definitely write on this site. I had just been to the Ovalekar Wadi Butterfly Park and decided to pen down my experience of the place at Ghumakkar. When I moved to Saudi, you and I discussed about my unique location and it was a “go!” from you. One of the first places I visited in Saudi was a wild-life reserve near my town and so I wrote my second story on that. The post received a good response by the well-travelled Ghumakkars and I was hooked to the site from then on.

Proposal on bent knees - Dr Taher announcing his love for Nishrin at Shalimar Gardens, Srinagar, Kashmir, in June 2006

Proposal on bent knees – Dr Taher announcing his love for Nishrin at Shalimar Gardens, Srinagar, Kashmir, in June 2006

Ghumakkar: Yes, and you have since then written 11 more stories and have brought to us some of the lesser known experiences, such as Mecca and Hajj Pilgrimage. We loved these posts. We will talk about Saudi Arabia in a bit, but first, we want to know everything about you so please tell us everything, starting from your early days.
Dr Taher: Good that you need details here. It would have been difficult for me to tell you in brief ( Writers don’t like that b-word!). I was born and raised in Aamchi Mumbai. I come from a modest Bohra Muslim family. My grandfather had made a lot of money during the second world war, and our family was extremely rich back then. He was a paper merchant, and that is how our family name “Kagalwala” came around. “Kagal” in Gujarati means paper.

Ghumakkar: Wow! that’s interesting. What was your family name before this?
Dr Taher: It was “Irshad”, which was my great-grandfather’s Takhallus, as he was a poet.

Ghumakkar: Hmmm, looks like creativity runs in your family. What was your father’s occupation?
Dr Taher: My father and his two brothers took over my grandfather’s business after he died. But unfortunately circumstances had changed by then, and they were helpless against time. The business plummeted and our family lost all their money. I was very young then, and a part of my two younger brothers’ responsibility fell on me. This meant that I had to start earning early.

Ghumakkar: That must have been really tough for your father too…
Dr Taher: Yes. My father, in spite of having seen a very affluent childhood, struggled financially through most of his adulthood. And, even till he passed away in November 2013, he had never once boarded an airplane — he was much too frail by then. But I feel that I owe much of my habit of documenting everything in details to him. I remember him doing this. Just last week, I discovered his photograph collection and am sharing a few from there.

Dr Taher at the age of 4 - a picture from his father's collection

Dr Taher at the age of 4 – a picture from his father’s collection

Young Taher with his father - another picture from his father's collection

Young Taher with his father – another picture from his father’s collection

Ghumakkar: Can you share something about your mother?
Dr Taher: I lost my mother when I was 11, to breast cancer. It was so long back that I hardly remember the times I spent with my mother. My father remarried, and my step-mother is really the only mother I know. We share a very warm mother-son relationship. We speak often, and whenever I am in India, I visit her frequently and spend as much time as possible with her.

Taher with his mother - this is the only picture he has of his real mother - from his father's collection

Taher with his mother – this is the only picture he has of his real mother – from his father’s collection

Ghumakkar: While all this was going on, how did you manage to complete your education?
Dr Taher: I had to take loans for much of it. I completed my medical graduation from the K.E.M. hospital in 1982 and qualified as a Pediatrician (Child specialist) in 1986. I practised in south Mumbai for about 24 years before I made the shift to Saudi Arabia.

Ghumakkar: Was this what you always wanted to do? Did you always want to be a doctor?
Dr Taher: Actually, although I wanted to be a doctor right from an early age, I veered to arts and fine arts during my later childhood. At the point where I had to choose my career, I selected medicine again as I had no knowledge of how to go about the fine arts thing … and after I had completed my basic medical qualification, I just knew I wanted to be a Pediatrician.

Dr Taher in his clinic in Mumbai - He loves being a pediatrician

Dr Taher in his clinic in Mumbai – He loves being a pediatrician

Ghumakkar: But from what we know, you never let the artist in you go.
Dr Taher: I am a writer and have always been a writer. I believe that you need to be a good reader to be a good writer. I am a non-discriminatory reader. I can read 3-4 books at a time.

Ghumakkar: That is amazing. Don’t you have trouble keeping a track of the plots in those books?
Dr Taher: I read different book(s) for different moods and these books are of different types. I may be reading fiction at bed -time and a non-fiction while travelling. I may be reading something related to my work at work and something more relaxing at home. So keeping track is never really a problem. My school instilled the reading habit in me because they used to give books as rewards to all its brighter students. I got books for scoring the highest marks in at least 3-5 subjects each year!

Ghumakkar: And when did writing happen?
Dr Taher: I started writing at a very early age. Enid Blyton’s series of investigative kids inspired me to create my own stories with my own gang of 4 kids with a dog. I wrote several episodes of this series – one being “The case of the missing children”. I was 11-12 back then. I also wrote fictional biographies, two Hindi novellas and so on…and all this before I was 16.

Ghumakkar: What do you prefer to write now, as a mature writer?
Dr Taher: I love to write stories and poems that reflect the ethos of India; mostly, I write Drama, Fiction, Adventure, Romance and stories featuring lives of the common people of the world. I am keen on writing a personal account of my life in Saudi Arabia in the form of a book that others can refer to when they want to know about life in the Kingdom, about living on one’s own in a strange place, and about Life in general. I like to put a lot of research into my writing. I admire the writers who put lots of geographical details into their writings.

Ghumakkar: Can you give us some examples of the writers who inspire you?
Dr Taher: There are many. Colin Forbes being one — his writing is so well researched that it seems that he has experienced everything he writes about first hand. Dan Brown — he is very good in combining his deep knowledge about Christianity and geography, and his skills as a fiction writer. William Dalrymple — Ghumakkar introduced me to him. You sent me his book City of Djinns last year. I loved it.

Ghumakkar: Yes! You got it when your story Makkah – Performing the Hajj pilgrimage was chosen to be the Featured Story for the month of December 2012. We are so glad you liked it. William Dalrymple’s writing is the perfect combination of good writing and travel. Does travel interest you as much as writing?
Dr Taher: I loved (and still love and will always love) travel. Whenever I went anywhere I would maintain a daily diary. After reaching home I would re-write the whole trip with details of each attraction visited and the expenses incurred etc. I still remember writing about my first North India trip to 18 destinations in 1976 in a plastic jacketed pocket diary. It had a list of contents, a title atop each page AND an index at the back! I have that diary even now and I marvel at the kind of detail I put in at the age of 16! Remember that in those days there were no fancy travel books … no laptops … no digi cameras and no smartphones or tablets. Our journeys were mostly recorded in our minds. We got a few pictures … one at the Taj … one outside our houseboat in Srinagar …and maybe a few in Delhi.

Rock climbing - Dr Taher loves adventure but his family doesn't like to rough it up too much

Rock climbing – Dr Taher loves adventure but his family doesn’t like to rough it up too much

Ghumakkar: You definitely kept busy as a child. What kind of traveller are you as a grown-up? Do you plan your trips well?
Dr Taher: I cannot clearly remember my first trip on my own. But the one I can remember is my honeymoon with my wife, and it was unplanned. Only the train tickets were pre-booked, It was a pleasure to discover Bangalore, Mysore and Ootacamund on our own. As life has become more busy and complicated, I usually now plan the whole trip, book hotels and flights online, and take fewer risks. Even so, it is fun to travel.

Ghumakkar: And does your family share your love for travel?
Dr Taher: Yes, I haven’t really talked about them yet. My family of three women … my wife Nishrin and my two daughters – Inas and Hannah. Nishrin is a Sikh Punjabi and is a beautician by profession. My elder daughter, Inas, is a hair stylist and the younger one, Hannah, is still studying. Hannah sings like an angel. In fact, we had named her Hana, which is an Arabic name. But she changed it to Hannah, to make it sound closer to “Hannah Montana”, a TV character played by Miley Cyrus, the young singer.

Dr Taher with the 3 most beautiful women in his life - his wife, Nishrin, and Daughters, Inas and Hannah

Dr Taher with the 3 most beautiful women in his life – his wife, Nishrin, and Daughters, Inas and Hannah

Ghumakkar: Now that’s a true fan! And do they accompany you in your travels?
Dr Taher: Oh yes! They are always with me on my trips since I married 24 yrs ago. They share my love of travel, but are unwilling to rough it out on treks or safaris. They are also reluctant to go to “hot” places.

Dr Taher and Nishrin on the day of their wedding

Dr Taher and Nishrin on the day of their wedding

Ghumakkar: Speaking of “hot” places, how did Saudi Arabia happen?
Dr Taher: Saudi Arabia was, to me, a destination to fulfill the dreams I … and almost everyone has … to make some real money. With that in mind, I set before myself three goals: make that money, complete my Umrah, Hajj and Medinah pilgrimages, and learn something new in Paediatrics … my profession. I am happy to tell you that I have already met the spiritual goals; have made some money, though I need some more (who doesn’t? ;-)); and completed 2/3rds of my examinations towards Membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, U. K. (M.R.C.P.C.H.).

Ghumakkar: For the benefit of our fellow Ghumakkars, what does travel look like in Saudi?
Dr Taher: Travel in Saudi Arabia is a challenge in more ways than one. Roads are excellent, though and all you need is your iqama – your residence permit. You don’t always find greenery. There are many tea and coffee chains on the highway. Language can be a serious handicap. But … I have managed it well since I am alone. My family is still here in Mumbai. I have been to perform the Hajj, gone once to Madinah, twice to Riyadh, several times to At Taif and Jeddah and once to the Mahazat As Said Wildlife Reserve. It’s been a good experience so far. I intend to visit Damam and other places over the next year. And travel scene in Saudi Arabia is completely different if you are a woman.

Ghumakkar: Oh! How is that?
Dr Taher: It is safe to say that Tourism per se for women is non-existent in Saudi. But people who are here for other reasons, such as work or with their husbands or families do travel quite a bit. Even so, you are always required to be accompanied by one of the following male blood relations – your husband, your father, your brother, or your son. You cannot travel alone even with your grandfather, uncle, brother-in-law, and other relations…

Ghumakkar: And does one also need to cover one’s face?
Dr Taher: Not necessarily your face, but definitely your hair and your body. The local women though are always covered from head to toe at least in villages.

Ghumakkar: How is Saudi Arabia different from India culturally?
Dr Taher: I can actually point out more similarities than differences. They are extremely hospitable people just like Indians. If you visit their homes, they will make you feel very welcome, showering you with their kindness and treating you to their choiciest of delicacies. Just as we worship the cow and its milk and urine, they also revere the camel, drink its milk and consider its urine as being curative of many illnesses. The similarities are not pleasant always though. In India, often when very poor children suffer from abdominal pains, they are taken to a local healer who puts extremely hot iron on their tummies, at times burning the skin. The same happens in Saudi as well.

Ghumakkar: Good God! We never knew that such things happen in India.
Dr Taher: Yes, they do. And talking of the dissimilarities, food and behaviour of the people needed some adjusting to, but, at the end of two years, I am comfortable that I am now able to eat their foods … well, maybe not all, but about 50-60% of them. I relish their Arabian coffee, known as qahwa, enjoy their fried chicken (dajjaj shoya) and broast chicken (dajjaj fahm), and don’t ,mind eating their overcooked vegetables some of the times when there is no alternative. But, mostly, I make my own food.

Life in a small town can be boring. I compensate for this by going on to the net, making new friends on social media (You can find my FB page on www, and write about my experiences on my special blog ( … or try the “.in” suffix if you are in India). I go for walks every day … and try to keep myself fit that way. (The result is not very flattering, though).

I also try to keep up with prayers. Spiritually, life in the Kingdom is satisfying as everyone prays together. Shops close, all activity comes to a standstill and we get a chance to pray properly.

Ghumakkar: Coming back to travel, what kind of places do you like to visit?
Dr Taher: I have no preferences or places to avoid. I like to go on a busy holiday as long as my body permits it. I try to design a holiday that has something for each member of my family. For example, when we went to Egypt, we had the usual spots like Cairo, Aswan, Valley of the Kings, etc. which almost everyone goes to. In addition, we had a special trip to the White and the Black Desert with a camping for one night in the company of desert foxes under a billion-star sky. We also went to a place not usually frequented by Indians, but very popular among the Belo-Russian states – Hurghada – a beach town on the Red Sea. The coral sightings there in a glass-bottomed boat were fascinating. Other water sports were also available.

A symbolic exchange of the key of life at Egypt

A symbolic exchange of the key of life at Egypt

Ghumakkar: Please tell us about your other interests, apart from writing?
Dr Taher: I keep changing my passions over time. However, my core interests continue to be Pediatrics, travelling and writing. In addition, I have a deep yearning for knowledge and strive continually to learn something new. My motto in life is: Solve one quiz each day and Learn one new skill each year. To that end, I have tried my hand at learning new languages (the current one being Tagalog, the language of my fellow nurses at Saudi Arabia, the Filipinas), new skills (I learned about Geospatial Revolution and made some maps on Mumbai online this year; until a few years ago, I was keen on astronomy and would stare at the skies with my first telescope – and so on.)

Since the past 4 years, I have developed an interest in Bird-watching and Bird-Photography. My Facebook Page ( has a lot of pictures that I have been taking, and not just on birds!

Ghumakkar: You lead a very active and creative life. Amidst all this, what keeps you glued to Ghumakkar?
Dr Taher: Over the last few years, I have come to love Ghumakkar for its intuituve design, innovative idea and the overwhelming participation by its large membership of common men and women like me who make a difference in my life simply by taking out the time to document and share with me their personal lives and travels. They are all doing this selflessly, make no mistake! And that is what makes it so rewarding to visit the site often and keep reading about others’ experiences as they go about … leaving their footrprints on Time itself.

Ghumakkar: You have been with Ghumakkar for more than two years now. Which are the writers here that you admire?
Dr Taher: Well, there are many. I like to read stories that are about discovery and exploration. I like the writing styles of Vishal Rathod, D.L. Narayan, Sanghamitra, Vibha Malhotra, and Nandan Jha. I love reading their stories.

Ghumakkar: You are too kind Dr Taher. And to conclude, What would you want to tell the Ghumakkar community?
Dr Taher: I must thank all the admins and readers of Ghumakkar at the outset. Without your abiding co-operation, enthusiastic involvemnent and reading of my travelogues, I would amount to nothing on this amazing website. I say: let’s keep it going, guys. Travel is not just about visiting other places. It is a strong method of acquiring (and later, sharing) knowledge, spreading love and understanding, and mostly, it is about self-development. It is only when we travel that we learn that no matter what the differences between peoples of the world, our hearts beat as one. We have the same rainbow of emotions, the same likes and dislikes, the same loves and hates, and the same worries and insecurities. By understanding others, we understand ourselves better … and also … we are better able to cope with our own problems.

Travel also brings us closer to the Almighty. Haven’t we all looked at His creations with awe and wondered at the Great Scheme of Things that He seems to be not just controlling, but also orchestrating so brilliantly all over the World that we know about … and the worlds that we probably will never know about.

Ghumakkar: That was a profound thought Dr Taher! Thank you for the interesting interview. It has been great talking to you tonight.
Dr Taher: Same here. It was lovely talking to you too. Take care.

And this was where we brought the interview to an end. And even after several rounds over email and a long chat on the phone, I was left feeling that there was so much more to be uncovered. But I guess that is how it has to be. One cannot hope to spend a couple of hours and learn all about someone like Dr Taher. We have promised to catch up whenever I travel to Mumbai and he happens to be there, so I will wait for that occasion and then hammer him with more, and then some more, questions. But until then, this is all we have to share with you. Hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as we enjoyed interviewing him.

I will now go back and read some travelogues at Ghumakkar. So much has happened while I was away. But being back is fun and I am looking forward to interacting more with all you wonderful people…soon…

Take care,


  • Taher Kagalwala says:

    Dear Ghumakkar admins and esp. my dear friend Vibha …

    I am overwhelmed at your appreciation and love for my work. The interview makes it look as if I have no frailties or weakness, no dark side to my personality … but you know … life isn’t all that one-sided! Vibha, you have captured the real essence of what must have been my ramblings into this write-up and I give you an A+ grade on the same. Thanks to all the readers who have visited my port. Please continue to do so … and do visit my writing on


  • Dr. Taher,
    Congratulations for the Ghumakkar Featured Author of the month .
    It was great knowing more about you as a person through this nice interview, I enjoyed reading every single word of this interview. Your life story is very inspiring and full of action.
    @ Vibha : a great interview .Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  • jaishree says:

    Congrats Dr Taher! It becomes easier to relate to an author when you know a little more about the author other than writing. It was interesting to know that you keep so man y interests and that too on and off!

    Welcome back Vibha. Hope to read more from you.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Wow. Taher, you must be an outlier in your Doc community. :-). It is so much rewarding to read this interview and to interact with you over last years. Vibha has done a swell job of putting this whole thing together and it doesn’t feel a bit that she was away for almost an year. Bravo.

    My biggest takeaway was …”It is only when we travel that we learn that no matter what the differences between peoples of the world, our hearts beat as one. We have the same rainbow of emotions, the same likes and dislikes, the same loves and hates, and the same worries and insecurities. By understanding others, we understand ourselves better and also we are better able to cope with our own problems.”….

    If you decide to write about your life in Saudi then please mention above as well. And from traveling angle, I only wish that it gets simpler for all of us to travel more. Thank you Doc for talking to Ghumakkar and thank you Vibha for this brilliant interview. I can sense that a lot of us are looking forward to speak to you over coming months. Wishes.

    • Vibha says:

      Thanks a lot Nandan. It wouldn’t have come out so well without your valuable inputs.

    • Taher Kagalwala says:

      Dear Nandan,

      Wow! What a great comment. I accept your felicitations with humility. You are truly a beacon on this site and you have great clarity of thought which I appreciate. I will remember your suggestions. Thank you so much.


  • Chand Nair says:

    Very Nice!..Congratulations Taher and Vibha. Nicely done interview, rings true…good human interest romantic story here and a successful one at that…great pictures too…enjoyed it…good job!

  • Saleh Bookwala says:

    Nice to read your travel pursuits and the nice family snaps you shared from your collection.
    I love reading your blog where you give a detailed write up of events.

  • It was nice to know about you & your family.

    Congratulations for being featured Author for the month !

  • AUROJIT says:


    @ Dr Taher,

    Congrats. The interview is great and we enjoyed it through and through. The Shalimar Garden pic – it is real endearing!! Irshad to Kagal to your own tribulations – thanks for getting to let Ghumakkars know about you.
    I know now whom to contact before making our Gulf trip :-) Congrats once again.

    @ Vibha,

    Firstly, compliments for enjoining a partner to your Ghumakkari.
    Next, thanks for such a nice interview post. Enjoyed the post.


    • Taher Kagalwala says:

      Thank you, Aurojit. I really appreciate your input. You are always welcome to ask me about KSA … I haven’t visited other countries of the Gulf yet, so … no deal. Egypt is not part of the Gulf, though it is a part of the Arab World.


    • Vibha says:

      Thanks Auro! I am glad you enjoyed the interview. And thanks much for such a warm welcome…

  • Nirdesh Singh says:

    Hi Vibha,

    Nice to have you back and congratulations on your change of status!

    Dr Taher seems to be a wonderful person with lots of amazing talent.

    We would love to see him here more often with his travelogues.

    The interview was top-notch! You seem to have hit the ground running.

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Dr. Taher,
    A sincere felicitation for the well deserved title. We the late comers in this family are blessed to know, humbly great personalities like you through such useful interactions on and off. It was very sensitive and preaching to know you sir. Hope you will start penning more logs soon and benefit your newer fellow ones too.

    Vibha, an excellent piece of interaction with appropriate information in humble and matured style. Kudos!

    Keep traveling

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